I figure if I document and share some of the ways we're observing Lent, we might be inspired to make the most of it. So here's the first (and I hope not the last) installment of what I'll call, "2011: A Lenten Odyssey."
On the Monday before Ash Wednesday, I gave the third graders in my CCD class a calendar with a cross to color in for every day of Lent, and instructed them to color in the crosses certain colors based on what kind of Lenten observation they did that day. (Like if they said an extra prayer they would color it yellow; if they gave something up that they like they color it green or whatever). We have 34 days of Lent before Religious Education goes on hiatus for Easter; I told them if they brought back the calendar on that last day with 30 crosses filled in, they would get a prize. Although, now I'm wondering if 30 is too much to ask; what do you think?
On Monday and Tuesday at preschool, we had the kids decorate a strip of construction paper and then glue it onto an empty play-dough container. We cut holes in the top and explained that they were for collecting coins for the needy. If they do an extra chore at home or say extra prayers, Mommy or Daddy would put a coin in the bank. Before Easter they'll bring back their full coin banks and we'll combine the money collected for a worthy cause.
At preschool, Father L. came by to distribute ashes to the children. We were afraid that some of the kids would be fearful and reluctant to receive the cross, but they all thought it was great. Father L. explained that these were special ashes made from burned palm fronds, and they were blessed and that the cross that he would make on their foreheads was a very special blessing. They all got a kick out of looking at their crosses in the mirror, and one little boy said that my cross looked like a tattoo! After receiving the ashes, we heard one little voice call out, "Thank You, God!"
Traditional Mid-afternoon Ash Wednesday Lunch: Frozen gluten-free cheese enchiladas and applesauce.
Dinner: A Tuna dish with rice, courtesy of Rachael Ray (only a small amount for me, even though I wanted more) I was so glad to find this quick and easy one-pot meal; I managed to whip it up real quick before I started schlepping everyone hither and yon. (Here's the recipe if you're interested. It was quite good, and since I'm gluten-free these days, I served it over rice instead of pasta.) I decided that as a small Lenten sacrifice I would not automatically turn on the kitchen TV like I usually do; it's amazing how much more quickly the food preparation and cleanup can go without the boob tube to distract me. I never did make it to Mass, though. If only it were a Holy Day of Obligation, maybe I would have.
On Thursday I read Eric Carle's The Tiny Seed to the preschool children. It's the story of a little seed that's blown away by the wind with other seeds that are bigger than it is. The other seeds get blown out to sea, eaten, trampled on, and when the seeds that survive finally start to grow, all the other seeds grow quickly into beautiful flowers, while the tiny seed is still only a little plant. The other flowers get crushed by children's feet and picked, but the little flower grows into a giant flower even taller than a house. Pretty soon it produces its own seeds that are blown away by the wind. I explained to the children that we are like little seeds--God made us and we're growing and pretty soon we'll be grown up. We are learning and growing in God's love, and he is shaping us into beautiful flowers. We handed out the coin banks they had made, and I asked each child to tell what they would do to help Mommy or Daddy so they could put money in their banks. I then gave them each three pennies to get them started. Some of the kids still had the idea that the money was for them, and one even excitedly told me what cool toy he would buy for himself. I explained again that we would put all of the money together and buy clothes or food or toys for little children who had none.
I don't know about you, but when Ash Wednesday is over, I always look forward to eating regular-sized portions and snacks in between meals! And I promise that from now on I won't document everything I eat--at least, not until Good Friday when we have to fast again...
Thursday afternoon was one of the highlights of my week, because I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Immaculee Ilibagiza, the survivor of the Rwandan genocide and the author of several books, including Left to Tell and Our Lady of Kibeho. She recounted her memories of the plane crash that killed the president of Rwanda and triggered the horrific genocide; the last memories of her parents and her brothers, the fear and anger she felt hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women, listening to men searching the house for Tutsis who might be hiding there. She talked about how she prayed the Rosary to pass the time, and how peace began to take over in her heart. The more she prayed the more peace and the less anger she felt; and ultimately her prayers gave her the strength to forgive those who murdered the people she loved.
I spent way too much money on books, but it was worth it. I bought a beautiful Our Lady of Sorrows Rosary (which I STILL haven't prayed), and when I handed her my books for her to sign, she smiled warmly at me. She is a bit like a rock star, and I was a little nervous about meeting her; I told her that I had read Left to Tell and Our Lady of Kibeho, and that I was looking forward to reading her second book, Led By Faith. She said, "You really should come to Rwanda with us! It's beautiful there, and we have pilgrimages to Kibeho!" I said I would LOVE to come. She grasped my hand in both of hers, and as I walked out into the rain, shoving the newly signed books under my coat so they wouldn't get wet, I was grinning like a crazy woman.
Thursday evening my parents arrived at our house (spending time with Mom and Dad was the other highlight of my week!) because the kids were off from school on Friday and I had a workshop to attend for the diocesan preschool teachers. I gave my mother the signed copy of Left to Tell, and that evening we watched videos of Immaculee that I had found on the Internet. Perhaps Mom and I can go to Kibeho together one day.
Dear Jesus, give us the courage to give until it hurts this Lent. Help us to remember that You love us enough to suffer and die for us, and give us the grace to suffer for others.